What they never taught Yanjaa Wintersoul, 23, in school were creative memory techniques. “I’d have had so much more spare time just ’cos I’d already learn everything ahead of time,” the Mongolian-born two-time memory world champion tells us. She had accepted Ikea's challenge to memorise its 2018 catalogue in one week, and was here as the 'Ikea Human Catalogue' for a Facebook Live session for fans to test her memory skills in real time.
#1: You’re not born with it. But everyone can do it, according to Yanjaa, who only picked up creative memory techniques three years ago, when she was a business student cramming for exams. “I came across a memory technique book called Moonwalking with Einstein. Because I had learnt all these memory techniques, I had so much free time that I decided to take part in memory competitions.”
#2: To start, make up stories. To memorise the Ikea catalogue, she used personal association, which is key in creative memory techniques. She made up stories based on the pictured scenarios on each page, imagined herself in the rooms and what she’d do with the items there. “It got harder from page 280, where there are many mattresses and beds. I’m a big fan of beds but it’s harder to make personal associations when I haven’t felt them (laughs). I know people who use these techniques in law school, medical school and even learning Chinese characters. In fact, people who don’t use memory techniques to learn Chinese characters usually do way worse.” Now then say.
#3: Being glued to your phone may worsen your memory. “I lived without my phone for a year as I was testing out [what affects] attention span. My attention span definitely got better. There are studies that show that having your phone close to you while you’re studying decreases your concentration by 30 per cent. If it’s in the room but not close to you, 20 per cent. And if the phone is not in the room but in the apartment, 10 per cent. But try not to focus so much on the phone aspect. Just be more mindful and be kind to yourself when learning new things.”
#4: But don’t ditch the phone. “When I went without my phone that year, my memory didn’t get better for organisational things because I didn’t have any [apps] that let me know where I was supposed to be for certain meetings, and I wouldn’t wake up when I needed to [without my phone alarm] (Laughs). Now I have two phones — one for work and one for entertainment. It’s better if you compartmentalise,” she says. Selective memory works when you meet new people too. “I have a tendency not to remember rude or mean people. It’s not important for my life!”
#5: Choose wisely what to remember. “If it’s something that you don’t need to remember long-term, don’t remember it. Just note it down. For example, in five years’ time, you don’t need to know that this certain flight you had to catch was at 5pm, but you do need to remember when your friend’s birthday is. Don’t think of your memory as a computer with limited space. Instead, the more you memorise, the more you can memorise. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it makes for more memorable information.”
#6: Improve your memory with one simple exercise. “If you’re reading something, rather than just reading it once and forming an opinion, take a moment to mull over the article and think about it deeper. It’s the same with conversations that you have — think about what went good or bad.” Now, pause, and think about that.
#7: A balanced life works better than memory-boosting supplements. “It’s better to focus on eating well and moving — you can just take walks three times a week. Hang out with people — the broader our social circles are, the better we are at learning. And sleep. I sleep way too much and I never tell people how much I sleep! But it’s definitely more than eight hours. (Laughs)”
#8: Remembering names and faces starts with a story. Yanjaa, who holds the world record for remembering the most names and faces (187 international names in 15 minutes!) suggests: “If you’ve just met someone called Rose, then you could associate it with Rose in Titanic, or imagine roses coming out of their ears. Or if you know another Rose, think of how your friend Rose would get along with this new Rose. Make it personal. What about Jasmine? There’s a quilt cover and pillow cases called Night Jasmine on page 298 of the catalogue (right) — it’s all very Ikea-focused now (giggles) — and if I had to recommend one item from the catalogue to you, it’d be the Night Jasmine quilt cover.”
Watch Yanjaa’s Facebook Live session at https://www.facebook.com/IKEASingapore.